On the anniversary to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Allied D-Day landings - an event which helped change the course of World War II - attention was paid to the American, British, Canadian and other Allied veterans who risked their lives to launch the greatest sea assault in military history to liberate Europe from Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.
Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, and colonel-in-chief of the Parachute Regiment, led tributes just after midnight to those in the first round of air landings.
Some 156,000 troops parachuted or waded from motor gunboats onto French soil on June 6, 1944. Close to 4,500 were dead by nightfall.
Eighty-nine-year-old Jock Hutton marked the anniversary by parachuting to the same spot he landed on as a 19-year-old in 1944. Hutton was assisted with his jump by a member of the parachute display team, the Red Devils, who was strapped to his back for safety.
'Thaw Ukraine crisis'
Host France is hoping the event will bring a thaw in the Ukraine crisis. In France for the commemorations, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with British Prime Minister David Cameron in Paris, followed by a meeting with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace.
French diplomats say Hollande is hopeful of getting Putin to shake hands with Ukrainian president-elect Petro Poroshenko, who is also attending. The move could be the first step in defusing tensions between the neighbors.
Putin has yet to recognize the legitimacy of the May vote which made the billionaire industrialist the new Ukrainian leader. Petroshenko is set to be sworn in on Saturday.
Veterans, royalty and world leaders, including Obama, Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are to attend the main international ceremony of remembrance on the beach of Ouistreham on Friday morning.
Ahead of the ceremony, Merkel is due to meet with Putin in the seaside resort of Deauville in Normandy to discuss the demands made by the G7 meeting in Brussels on Thursday.
jlw/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)